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“Return Of The Do-Nothing Republican Congress”: The Lunatic Caucus Will Still Run The Show In 2016

Matt Yglesias has written an article that probably won’t be embraced by the partisans on the far left or the far right. It’s titled: 2015 Was the Year Congress Started Working Again. He begins by listing their accomplishments and adds some commentary.

Among some of the things Congress accomplished: The main federal statute governing K-12 education got an overhaul. So did the federal disability insurance system. A long-running dispute about federal highway funding got resolved, as did a long-running dispute about Medicare payments. Last but by no means least, December saw a whole bunch of tax changes featuring good news for low-wage workers and a broad set of business interests. Congress even passed a law to ban microbeads in bath products to help protect the nation’s fisheries.

These aren’t all good bills, and almost none of them are what anyone would consider a great bill, but in a way that’s the point. Legislation passed in 2015 because congressional leaders went back to doing what congressional leaders are supposed to do in times of divided government: compromise to pass bills that don’t thrill anyone but do make both sides happier than they would be in the absence of a bill.

We all know that people like Sen. Ted Cruz aren’t happy about any of this. There are plenty of people on the left who aren’t thrilled either. But as Yglesias points out – it is a clear improvement over the government-by-crisis dynamic we saw previously.

Unlike Yglesias though, I don’t see the productivity resulting from the fact that President Obama is now a lame duck or that Congressional leaders don’t have much of a stake in any of the Republican presidential contenders.

What those explanations miss is that in 2015, Republicans took control of both Houses of Congress. Simply obstructing Democrats was no longer a viable strategy. Initially they eschewed government-by-crisis in favor of passing bills that would force President Obama to use his veto pen. That strategy started to fall apart almost immediately when the lunatic caucus wanted to shut down the Department of Homeland Security over the President’s immigration executive orders.

All of the compromises Yglesias listed happened when the Republican leadership abandoned the lunatic caucus and sought ways to work with the Democrats. And that, my friends, is precisely why John Boehner is no longer Speaker of the House. The lunatic caucus rebelled.

So what is the new Speaker to do? Here’s what Siobhan Hughes reports:

House Speaker Paul Ryan starting this month will push to turn the chamber into a platform for ambitious Republican policy ideas, in a bid to help shape his unsettled party’s priorities and inject substance into a presidential race heavy on personality politics.

Right out of the gate for the new year comes this:

It looks to me like Speaker Ryan is going to once again try to herd the cats of the lunatic caucus in an attempt to rack up symbolic votes that will be stopped by a presidential veto (if not in the Senate first). One has to wonder how that will fly with the angry/fearful right. Meanwhile, the rest of us will be stuck with a do-nothing Congress once again.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 4, 2015

January 5, 2016 Posted by | Do Nothing Congress, GOP Presidential Candidates, Omnibus Spending Bill | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Dysfunctional GOP Is Failing To Govern”: It Is Safe To Say Republicans Have No Earthly Idea Of What They Want To Accomplish

It was only January when Republicans took full control of Congress, but already it is safe to say they have no earthly idea of what they want to accomplish.

What we’re seeing is not just a bit of sputtering before the GOP machine cranks up and begins to systematically fulfill its governing plan. There is no plan. Republican majorities in both the House and Senate are so out of control that they’ve managed a feat once thought impossible: They make the Democratic Party look like a model of unity and discipline.

House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) has never really been in charge of his caucus. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) was supposed to be a masterful orchestrator, a consummate dealmaker, a skillful herder of cats. So far, he is looking, well, kind of Boehneresque.

McConnell should be deeply embarrassed that a mere freshman, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) could invite widespread ridicule by convincing 46 of his colleagues (including McConnell himself) to sign a dangerously inappropriate letter to the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran. At once bellicose and patronizing, the letter threatens to undo any agreement President Obama may reach on limiting the Iranian nuclear program.

It is one thing for a rookie senator, perhaps impressed with his new status, to decide he can barge into sensitive international negotiations that are clearly the president’s to conduct. But to convince so many others to go along with such a bad idea suggests a disturbing lack of adult supervision.

Predictably, Senate Republicans who signed Cotton’s missive have had to spend days explaining why. The better question, in my view, is how: Specifically, how could McConnell allow his majority to be hijacked in this manner?

Not that McConnell showed any greater ability to control events during the long and pointless fight over funding for the Department of Homeland Security. Senate Democrats remained united throughout — and, in the end, Republicans who had hoped to reverse Obama’s executive actions on immigration had to capitulate. McConnell, a master of the Senate’s arcane procedures, was reduced to complaining about how the mean old Democrats were using the rules to get their way.

Did McConnell allow the scenario to play out as a way of teaching House Republicans the limits of their power? If so, it was a triumph of hope over experience. We’ve seen this movie again and again, and it always ends the same way: with the House leadership apparently shocked to learn it takes 60 votes to get anything done in the Senate.

For all the post-election talk about how the GOP was going to show the nation it is capable of governing, by now it is clear that many Republicans in Congress do not share this goal.

Since Republicans do not hold the White House or veto-proof majorities in either chamber, governing requires compromise. Refusing to make the compromises needed to pass mandatory legislation, such as budget appropriations, leads to self-inflicted wounds such as government shutdowns for which Congress is blamed. These are not difficult concepts to grasp.

Yet many House Republicans — either for ideological reasons or because they fear inviting a primary challenge from the right — will not compromise at all. They find it more advantageous or satisfying to vote 50-plus times to repeal all or part of Obamacare, knowing they have no chance of succeeding, rather than look for ways to make the program work better for their constituents.

That explains Boehner’s ineffectiveness. But what about McConnell’s? Why hasn’t he taken the reins?

One reason is the number of Republican senators who are thinking about running for president. Opposition to Obama — rather than any set of ideas, values or principles — is the party’s North Star. So if a letter that seeks to torpedo the president’s Middle East policy is circulating in the Senate cloakroom, anyone thinking about the Iowa caucuses is going to sign on.

Another reason might be that McConnell is simply a better counterpuncher than initiator. Or perhaps he just needs to rethink his approach. His failure to get a single Democrat to defect on the Homeland Security votes should convince him that if he is going to be effective in leading the Senate, something’s going to have to change.

As things stand, it is possible to argue that the most capable field marshals in Congress are Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.). Which makes you wonder just what in the world the Republican Party thinks it might be accomplishing.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, Thew Washington Post, March 16, 2015

March 22, 2015 Posted by | Governing, John Boehner, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Trying Every Trick In The Book”: Republicans Stop At Nothing To Attack Immigrants

On March 3, the House of Representatives finally voted for a clean DHS funding bill. Much of the media reported that Republicans saw the irresponsibility of their threats to shut down Homeland Security and passed a clean bill. But they didn’t, and no one should lose sight of that.

After trying every trick in the book to scuttle the bill, their leadership allowed the vote to happen, but Republicans never caved. Republicans voted over two to one (167-75) against the bill. It only passed because of full Democratic support.

It’s clear that Republicans will stop at nothing to attack immigrants. The fact that national security was on the line was immaterial: Republicans saw an opportunity to display their animus toward all immigrants, and Latinos in particular, and they took it.

This publicity stunt gave Republicans the chance to pander yet again to the most virulent anti-immigrant members of their party. Take, for instance, William Gheen of Americans for Legal Immigration and his comments during the heat of the DHS fight in mid-February:

[I] wouldn’t put anything past [the administration, because] the people who are supporting the organized and well-funded illegal alien invasion of our homeland have the blood of many thousands of Americans on their hands that have been killed, injured raped and robbed by illegal immigrants.

Sure, Gheen is a fringe extremist. But what he’s saying is strikingly similar to what we’re hearing from the Republican Party.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the architect of Mitt Romney’s “self-deportation” strategy, entertained the suggestion that Obama’s executive actions could eventually result in Latinos conducting an “ethnic cleansing” of their fellow Americans. Sen. Tom Coburn, Rep. Mike Kelly, and Rep. Louie Gohmert have also warned that the president’s immigration policies could lead to violence.

While some in the GOP tried to tell a different narrative — that this was just about reining in presidential excess and not about their being anti-immigrant — the fact is that the entire Republican Party is at fault. Not one House Republican signed the discharge petition to allow even a vote on the Senate’s bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill. And Senate Republicans who backed that bill, including Sen. Marco Rubio, now say they no longer support it. At this very minute, House Republicans are bringing up even more anti-immigrant legislation, including deportation-only legislation and a bill that would drastically change U.S. asylum and humanitarian protections to put domestic violence survivors and victims of human trafficking at serious risk.

Ultimately, it was Ann Coulter who summed up the Republican position on the DHS debate: Undocumented immigrants (she calls them “illegal aliens [who] have killed, raped and maimed thousands of Americans”) pose a greater threat to our nation than does ISIS.” While not all Republicans used language as biting as that, it was crystal-clear that Republicans believe that attacking immigrants, not funding DHS, should be the top priority.

Who would have imagined that a national party, never mind the Republican Party, would be so opposed to finding any solution for the almost 12 million undocumented people already here that they would risk our national security during the dangerous time we are in now? Yet that’s the reality of the GOP today, and it’s our responsibility to hold them accountable.

 

By: Michael B. Keegan, President, People For the American Way, The Blog, The Huffington Post, March 6, 2015

March 8, 2015 Posted by | Immigrants, National Security, Republicans | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Congressional Dysfunction, The Serialized Tragicomedy”: Democrats Should Restrict Their Legislative Actions To Maximum Of Seven Days

The problem with modern-day politics, aside from everything, is that it lacks consistent excitement.

Sure, there are moments when debate over a major bill gets attention, but our interest fades once the bill passes and we drift back to more intriguing things, like reality television shows about dumb people.

Last week, however, lawmakers in the GOP-controlled Congress took a step that could turn American politics into must-see TV: They serialized democracy.

At issue was a bill to continue funding the Department of Homeland Security, the folks responsible for protecting our borders and keeping the country safe from terrorism. Most would agree it’s important to have that part of the government functioning, largely so it can do its “keeping the country safe from terrorism” thing.

After the requisite amount of harrumphing and whatnot, lawmakers could have just funded the department and moved on to other matters, allowing us to get bored and shift our attention to the myriad Kardashians we have to keep up with.

Instead, a wily group of Republicans decided the Homeland Security funding bill would be a great thing to use as leverage against President Barack Obama’s recent executive action on immigration, which is supposed to shield from deportation about 5 million immigrants who live in the U.S. illegally. The GOP lawmakers said they would only fund the Department of Homeland Security if the bill also rolled back Obama’s executive action, which they say is illegal and tyrannical and really hurt their feelings.

The problem is, Democrats won’t vote for a DHS funding bill that overrides the president’s immigration action, and even if they did, Obama would veto the whole thing. Also, the president’s attempt at immigration reform was recently suspended by a federal judge.

But legal limbo and the Sisyphean nature of legislatively doing away with Obama’s executive action would not deter these Republicans. They stuck to their guns, shot down short-term funding measures and — as the clock ticked to the deadline — finally agreed to give the Department of Homeland Security a week’s worth of additional money.

Several Republicans criticized their own party for being unable to reach agreement on a long-term bill that would keep the DHS running. And Democrats, naturally, had a field day.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee communications director Matt Thornton told Politico: “If this is a harbinger of things to come, the American public is in for a very long, painful and unproductive Congress.”

That’s one way to look at things. The other is that America is in for a long, gloriously dramatic and delightfully farcical new season of “Congress.”

With a one-week funding extension, Republicans gave us not just a dramatic cliffhanger — What happens when the homeland you love is no longer protected? — but the promise of another week of political intrigue.

Will Obama cave to the GOP’s pressure, take back his executive action and finally admit he’s a Kenyan-born radical transported through time to bring American society to its knees? Will House Speaker John Boehner rise from his office tanning bed, march to the congressional clubhouse where ultra-conservative lawmakers make forts out of stacks of money and shout, “SERIOUSLY, GUYS?!?”

This is not a failure to govern on the part of Republicans. It’s an ingenious way to methodically push the political narrative forward and keep Americans enthralled.

Perhaps the wildly popular public radio podcast Serial — which drew millions of online listeners by using an episodic format — gave lawmakers this idea. Wherever the concept came from, it’s gold.

Following the Republicans’ “short-term decisions equal long-term drama” lead, Democrats should now restrict their legislative actions to a maximum of seven days.

For example, rather than flatly vetoing the GOP’s Keystone XL pipeline bill, Obama should have issued a special one-week veto. That would have given us days of delicious bickering between legislators, oil companies and environmentalists. Why watch The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills when you could see The Real Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statements for the Keystone XL Pipeline Project of the State Department?

Here’s the bottom line: Episodic politics would put plenty of butts on sofas and finally get Americans tuning in to what their government is doing or, in most cases, not doing.

What’s to lose? If the whole process is going to be ridiculous, it might as well be ridiculously good TV.

 

By: Rex Huppke, Columnist for the Chicago Tribune; The National Memo, March 3, 2015

March 6, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Democracy, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Only Way Victory Can Be Achieved”: Republicans Still Obsessed With Message-Sending

There was a weird little sidelight to the just-concluded mini-crisis over funding for the Department of Homeland Security, which was that the American Action Network, a group allied with John Boehner, was running ads criticizing conservative Republicans for not supporting a clean DHS funding bill, even as Boehner was trying to win them over with a much softer approach. But what really struck me watching this was something about the message itself:

You may have noticed that when the ad says “put real teeth in immigration enforcement,” the image is of a Predator drone, presumably because we’ll be raining missiles down on people wading through the Rio Grande. Which is…interesting. But here’s the text:

“While the threats grow, conservatives in Congress want to beef up our security, enhance cybersecurity, and put real teeth in immigration enforcement. It’s the right message to send to our enemies. But some in Washington are willing to put our security at risk by jeopardizing critical security funding. That’s the wrong message to send to our enemies. Tell Congressman Tim Huelskamp to fund homeland security. Our safety must come first.”

This is a common argument, particularly when it comes to national security policy. “Sending messages” is supposed to be extremely important, and not just to friends and potential supporters, but to adversaries and enemies as well. Indeed, sometimes it seems that victory can be achieved if only we “send the right message.”

George W. Bush was particularly fond of citing the importance of proper message-sending. For instance, here are some of the things he said in the first debate he did in 2004 with John Kerry:

“[Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi] doesn’t want U.S. leadership, however, to send mixed signals, to not stand with the Iraqi people…I don’t see how you can lead this country to succeed in Iraq if you say wrong war, wrong time, wrong place. What message does that send our troops? What message does that send to our allies? What message does that send the Iraqis?…I know we won’t achieve if we send mixed signals. I know we’re not going to achieve our objective if we send mixed signals to our troops, our friends, the Iraqi citizens…The way to make sure that we succeed is to send consistent, sound messages to the Iraqi people…I think that by speaking clearly and doing what we say and not sending mixed messages, it is less likely we’ll ever have to use troops…But by speaking clearly and sending messages that we mean what we say, we’ve affected the world in a positive way…[Kim Jong-Il] wants to unravel the six- party talks, or the five-nation coalition that’s sending him a clear message…You cannot lead if you send mixed messages. Mixed messages send the wrong signals to our troops. Mixed messages send the wrong signals to our allies. Mixed messages send the wrong signals to the Iraqi citizens.”

Now I don’t mean to say that message-sending is never important. Adversaries and allies alike notice both what we do and what we say. But the idea that what matters in defeating ISIS is the message we send them is kind of crazy. There are plenty of reasons why it would have been a bad idea to shut down DHS, but it’s not like somewhere in Mosul a bunch of ISIS fighters would be watching CNN and say, “We were prepared to abandon this war, but this sends a message of weakness. The time to strike America is now!”

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect,  March 4, 2015

March 5, 2015 Posted by | GOP, National Security, Republicans | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

   

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